Coaching, Monitoring, Pushing, and Tracking: How Technology Helps with Type 2 Diabetes Care
In November, health organizations join together to raise awareness of diabetes care and management during National Diabetes Month in the US along with World Diabetes Day, which was created to draw attention to the growing global diabetes epidemic and the challenges faced by those living with the disease. One of the goals is to better understand how communities around the world are supporting people living with diabetes.
With full-time employees spending 40+ hours per week at the workplace, businesses are uniquely positioned to offer support for diabetes-related programs. Providing your employees with the resources they need to determine if they are at risk for prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, and the tools to manage their diagnosis or prevent their progression can help them maintain their health and productivity. According to the International Diabetes Federation, 80 percent of the cases of type 2 diabetes are preventable through the adoption of a healthy lifestyle.
While you may not have the resources to personally assist every employee with diabetes or prediabetes with their health goals, you can provide or recommend technology that may be able to help. Here are four examples to consider:
Health coaching for diabetes. An individual’s chances of developing type 2 diabetes depend on a combination of risk factors, including genetics and lifestyle. Although employees can’t change risk factors such as family history, age, or ethnicity, they can change lifestyle risk factors including nutrition, physical activity, and weight, which can affect their chances of developing type 2 diabetes.
One way to help them is through health coaching. Fitbit provides health coaching for diabetes with its recently launched Fitbit Care. An enterprise health platform, Fitbit Care combines wearables, digital interventions, and virtual care and health coaching for diabetes though the Fitbit Plus™ app. This app allows users to see critical health data conveniently in one place, to better understand trends over time. Fitbit Plus supports the integration of health metrics, including blood glucose, blood pressure, or medication adherence for tracking alongside data from Fitbit and other third-party connected devices.
Health coaching has had positive early results for helping to reduce type 2 diabetes risks. One recent study examined the outcomes of a Medicare population who participated in a program combining digital health with human coaching for diabetes risk reduction. Researchers looked at participants in Humana’s Medicare Advantage program, and saw that after 12 months, participants lost 7.5 percent of their initial body weight, and improved their cholesterol and glucose levels.
Continuous glucose monitoring. People with diabetes are faced with many complexities when managing their condition, including monitoring their blood sugar throughout the day, watching what they eat, attending frequent doctor visits, and, if the condition worsens, eventually self-administering between two and four insulin shots per day.
An employee with diabetes may have to take several breaks during the day to monitor blood sugar levels. One type of wearable technology, continuous glucose monitoring (CGM), enables people to measure blood glucose levels in real-time throughout the day. A small electrode, or glucose sensor, is inserted under the skin to measure glucose levels in tissue fluid. From there, a transmitter wirelessly sends the information to a monitor.
The monitoring device can detect and notify users when their glucose is reaching a high or low limit. This type of monitoring helps individuals understand what happens with changes in diet and exercise. For example, the individual might notice from a CGM monitor that glucose levels have risen to a high range after lunch. If paired with an activity trackers and push notifications, an individual could then be prompted to log their meal, which would help them discover which foods are triggering high glucose levels.
Sometime in the future, monitoring help may come in the form of skin patches, which enclose sensors that measure blood glucose in sweat and automatically release a dose of insulin to correct high blood glucose. The patch can be attached to a user’s skin, so in the event of low blood glucose levels, it will send a message alert to the user’s smartphone reminding them to eat.
Push notifications for healthier decisions. Persuasive technology—a term coined by Stanford researcher B.J. Fogg— incorporates insights into the design of products, including mobile apps and wearables. The goal is to modify people’s lifestyle habits. For example, many devices and mobile apps (including Fitbit) serve up well-timed notifications that can remind your employees to move at regular intervals. Other apps can remind patients to take medications, run a glucose test, or help with daily food and calorie tracking.
Activity trackers to help achieve goals. Activity trackers may help your employees stay accountable to their activity goals. By tracking activity data correlated with glucose data, employees managing type 2 diabetes have the right educational tools to help them better manage daily diet and exercise. For example, they can notice that glucose levels decrease if they walk after a meal.
In a small, 12-week study, older adults with chronic medical conditions received free wearable activity trackers. Researchers noticed improvements in clinical outcomes, attitudes towards the trackers, and physical activity behaviors. Patients lost an average of 0.5 pounds a week and saw a 9.2 percent decrease in LDL (or bad cholesterol) levels. Diabetes tends to lower HDL (good) cholesterol and increase LDL, which can put a person at risk for cardiovascular disease.
Smart technology such as these four options may help employees achieve their wellness goals, which in turn can improve self-management and self-care of diabetes. Doing so may not only help reduce the progression of the disease but can help reduce the costs of diabetes treatment and management. That would be a milestone worth celebrating during National Diabetes Month.